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Yanks beat BoSox to punch

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Alex Rodriguez has dined with Mike Modano and John Elway, been courted by Bill Coors, met governors and listened to owners talk about how their franchises created 30 percent higher office rentals near their stadium than elsewhere in their cities.

Rangers general manager Doug Melvin prepared a videotape presentation of his team's best prospects, right down to a speaking role by prized first baseman Carlos Pena. Pena is potentially the most distinguished national political figure to come out of Massachusetts -- via Santo Domingo -- since John F. Kennedy. As A-Rod watched the tape, he blurted out, "Look at that swing."

Mike Mussina
Manager Joe Torre, right, and the Yankees knew they wanted Mike Mussina even before the 2000 postseason was over.

Mike Hampton has been overwhelmed by the delegations that came to his Houston home. Braves GM John Schuerholz had never gone on such a recruiting trip -- John Schuerholz, certain Hall of Fame executive, on the road like Matt Doherty. Tony La Russa joined the Cardinals' impressive entourage. Cubs president Andy MacPhail made a presentation Al Gore wishes he could have made.

And when Mike Mussina stood in front of the New York media Thursday, what he stressed was he signed with "the team that wanted me most." Mussina talked of how less than one week after the World Series, Joe Torre called him "before he went on vacation." And how Andy Pettitte, Paul O'Neill, Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens and other players called him.

During the World Series, Yankees officials privately talked about Mussina. Here they were, scrapping to overcome the Oakland Athletics, beating Seattle and in the middle of the Subway Series, and they knew they wanted Mussina and how they wanted to get him.

"If the Red Sox had come in earlier, they would have had a chance," said one source close to the negotiations. "But they came in too late."

The Red Sox told the Boston Herald they made an all-out effort. Sources say the Red Sox would have broken the Kevin Brown line of $15 million per year. Too late. They made their push two days after Mussina already had a deal and one day after his physical with the Yankees -- a day when there was a minor hangup that was never going to be serious as long as Mussina's agent Arn Tellem had the Mets and Red Sox in waiting.

Is this about money? Of course, to a degree. The Indians couldn't afford to get into the Mussina mix. But the Mets would have been competitive and the Red Sox would have topped the Yankees' offer. The Mets still are focused on keeping their own -- Hampton, Turk Wendell, Rick Reed, Bobby Jones. And while newly re-signed John Franco was recruiting Hampton, Mussina spun too late. The Mets were in the World Series and were occupied with their own pitchers.

But the Red Sox? Why didn't they have Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, manager Jimy Williams and Joe Kerrigan planting the seeds after the BoSox were effectively eliminated on September 10? A couple of calls from GM Dan Duquette to Tellem, followed by a couple of Kerrigan and Garciaparra calls after the deal had been cinched is laziness and/or stupidity -- especially when they're trying to sell a bombed-out ballpark and a tradition whose telemarketing number is 500-01918.

The Yankees have sold the notion that private, decent, shy people like Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Mariano Rivera, Pettitte and O'Neill and others can prosper -- and not only that New York is the place to win, but it is the place to love.

While the Yankees were winning the World Series and recruiting Mussina, the Red Sox were in the middle of a pot-tossing kitchen melee involving the general manager, manager, center fielder, closer and other players. While one of the finest pitchers of his time was ironing out his contract with the Yankees, the Red Sox were writing a letter explaining why they need to raise ticket prices 250 percent in three increments.

In one case, of course, George Steinbrenner is responsible. In the other, John Harrington has never put one penny into the Red Sox, which one other owner said Thursday "is the difference between a businessman and a linear accountant."

By the way, Mussina gives the Yanks just two free agents signed from other teams, along with Mike Stanton.

Rodriguez will boil down his list in the next couple of days, knowing that Texas, Colorado and Seattle will pay the $20 million and others likely will as well.

"I may have allowed him too much information," says Boras. "But he's amazing. Teams expect a 25-year old, and they tell me he acts and thinks like someone 35. He ingests everything, and he understands it."

The market is going to keep swirling. Denny Neagle may sign quickly, and suitors aren't getting answers from Hampton. Manny Ramirez is going to be just fine, because there are so many A-Rod suitors, and Sammy Sosa may go to Texas or Colorado if either loses out on Rodriguez and/or Ramirez. But we know Texas and Colorado are going to spend some money on somebody.

Boston may spend as well, to cover the PR nightmare created by ticket increases, the Everett Wars, management hassles with players and the ugly public spat between the manager and general manager. It might have been worse had the Boston papers known that Garciaparra's plantar wart foot problem had gotten so bad -- and there's another Red Sox medical team story here -- that had intense treatments in California this week that may have finally abated the problem.

Mussina, Rodriguez and Hampton are proving this free agent recruitment isn't just about dollars. It's about relationships and lifestyle, facilities and vision.

If the Red Sox recruited Mussina back in September -- if Duquette had thought ahead and had Nomar, Pedro, Kerrigan talk to him, if John Harrington had thought to have Dick and Doris Kearns Goodwin invite Mussina to lunch in Concord and have Joe O'Donnell take the pitcher to a lunch at Harvard Law School with faculty members -- Mussina might be wearing a Red Sox uniform.

But president Randy Levine, GM Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, in the midst of winning a World Series, figured and planned it all out. Mike Mussina is a Yankee because those Yankees people do great jobs; he is not a Red Sox because the people who run that franchise have great jobs.

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